Tracy invests in solar energy
TRACY — The city of Tracy envisions a bright future in solar energy development.
Three different solar panel sites are being commissioned within the Tracy city limits. One of them, located in the Greenwood Avenue area near Tracy Area High School, went online in recent weeks.
Two others will follow in its footsteps, one of them near the Cenex Harvest States facilities and the other in the Swift Lake Park area on the northeast corner of the city.
“Solar is one of the best options for branching out into renewable energy,” said Tracy City Administrator Kris Ambuehl. “The potential is growing because of improvements in solar technology.”
The solar panel sites will be operated by a private energy vendor. The city and school district hope that output from the panels will help to keep down home, commercial, and public building energy expenses.
Ambuehl said an important factor in how the solar sites perform will involve the time it takes to recapture expenses associated with the current start-up process.
“It’s estimated that it will take about five years to pay for the installation cost,” he said. “At that point, the developer can begin to see a profit. They’re taking the chance that the solar units can last at least five years without major expenses for upgrading.”
Tracy Economic Development Coordinator Jeff Carpenter compared solar energy to the development of wind turbines throughout much of southwestern Minnesota.
He and his family live in Lake Benton, which was the site of the region’s first wind energy project in the early 1990s. It was followed by other commercial wind development phases along the Buffalo Ridge near Hendricks, Ruthton and Lake Wilson.
Wind energy took root in the Buffalo Ridge area with help from a state mandate that required Northern States Power Company to invest in wind energy production, biomass energy and potentially other renewable sources.
The mandate was one of the conditions for state approval of an NSP request to store “spent nuclear fuel” in dry casks outside its Prairie Island nuclear power plant in Red Wing. The waste storage pools that were part of the Prairie Island plant construction had filled to capacity.
Carpenter said solar energy is another popular renewable option since it’s always possible to obtain energy from sunlight. Traditionally solar power has had the most potential in desert climates at locations such as Arizona and Texas, but technology advancements have led to more possibilities for generating a return on investment in colder regions.
“It has very good possibilities,” Carpenter said. “At some point there will be a need for replacement panels and newer technology. When that day comes, at least the infrastructure will be in place. That should help to make the upgrades affordable.”